written by Alistair Turner

In a report published in Scientific Reports, a medical periodical, called ‘Global prevalence of mental health issues among the general population during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, brought to life the tidal wave of mental health concerns, tied in with the global pandemic.

The report, which aims to ‘provide a (study) of the contemporary global prevalence of mental health issues among the general population amid the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic’, took into consideration data points from 32 different countries.

The report broke down this global prevalence as; 28 per cent for depression; 26.9 per cent for anxiety; 24.1 per cent for post-traumatic stress symptoms; 36.5 per cent for stress; 50.0 per cent for psychological distress; and 27.6 per cent for sleep problems.

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The report’s findings also highlight the disparities between countries in terms of the poverty impacts of COVID-19, preparedness of countries to respond, and economic vulnerabilities that impact the prevalence of mental health problems.

Equally, a new paper from the University of Calgary, published in the medical journal JAMA Paediatrics, entitled ‘Youth, the pandemic and a global mental health crisis’, also reported that ‘An alarming percentage of children and adolescents are experiencing a global-wide mental (health) crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic’. It also reported that depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled and that help is needed to combat this second health crisis, not least among children and young adults.

In short, many health authorities are seeing mental health as an impeding epidemic in its own right, and there is genuine fear that infrastructure will struggle to deal with both. In our own industry, the seriousness of the ‘mental health pandemic’ should be taken more seriously than others. Previously this report has covered both the incidence of mental health within the industry, and why our professionals are more susceptible to its issues.

Additionally, we must accept the very real circumstances many have, and will continue to have, faced over the last 18 months. Including:

  • Loss of Employment: There can be no doubt that we have lost many highly talented people from the industry. Loss of work is directly associated with mental health issues both for those involved and their colleagues in the workplace.
  • Absence from work: this is an industry where what we do defines us as individuals, and while many could be ‘jealous’ of those on furlough schemes and similar breaks, this lack of productivity will have hit event professionals hard.
  • Collapse of Infrastructure: It is not just people we have lost, but businesses and organisations as well. This will have caused instability within event professionals; an undercurrent which will add to negative mental health exposure.
  • Switch in day-to-day roles: We talk much about the pivot from live to digital and the continual growth in hybrid events. This has also meant a massive change in the roles of event professionals. Whereas, historically, this role has been associated with attention to detail, organisation, and content, it is now as much about broadcasting, production, and skill with technology. More is being asked of our event professionals, their roles have been changed and expanded and, as yet, there is still much training to be done to properly equip them.

It is still very early to see what the true cost of the pandemic has been for event professionals specifically, but it is safe to say that if the statistics published in Scientific Reports represent a global population, those within the events industry will be facing a heightened version. This makes wellness one of the most urgent topics for the events industry over the next few years.

Equally, and moving away from wellness specifically, we now need to look at how desirable the events industry is to a new raft of young talent entering the workforce. The last two years has not shown the industry as one that is stable and reliable for a strong healthy career, and its relationship with mental health and wellness can also be a second destabilising factor. The subject of talent is already being discussed by many of our trade organisations and the results will be a big part of the industry’s destiny over the next decade.

Laura Capel-Abra, Stress Matters

“Insights have always been at the heart of what we do at Stress Matters and our 2021 research, in conjunction with University of Hertfordshire, found that 53 per cent of respondents believed that the event business that they work for has taken a more active role in trying to improve their wellbeing in the last 12 months. This is a step forward for our industry but what worries me is that 47 per cent didn’t take a more active role.

“It could be argued that they were already doing everything they could, but I think that’s unlikely. In 2019, only 13 per cent respondents felt their employer genuinely cared about reducing stress in their job, this has now dramatically increased to 79.5 per cent, which is an incredible jump, but we are still missing the action element for many of these businesses. Employers being conscious of it and caring is one thing, taking steps to improve workplace wellbeing is another.

“Employees currently believe that employers are approaching it as a tick-box exercise rather than making it a strategic priority. Data found that depression has doubled in adults in the UK over the course of the pandemic and workplace wellbeing support needs to go from being a tick-box exercise to a fundamental change in culture.

“The question about how desirable the industry is to new talent is a big challenge when we have such a poor reputation for looking after our people. This attraction, but also retention, is a real threat that businesses should be consciously trying to combat, Stress Matters found that 81 per cent respondents would put the reputation of a business’s approach to workplace wellbeing in the top five reasons to select a new employer. Meaning employers not only need to take action but also, they need to ensure that talent knows what actions they are taking.”